by Donna Posont
From the Editor: in the March 2014 issue, Dr. Geerat Vermeij discussed how using a sighted guide in his expeditions into the wild gave him a great deal of freedom as well as giving him the opportunity to create relationships that his sighted colleagues missed out on. In the name of fairness, this month we are sharing this article by Donna Posont, who respectfully offers an opposing view of where to leave your cane when heading out into nature, especially when working with blind children. Here is what Donna has to say:
I wish to make it clear that I hold Dr. Vermeij and his contributions to evolutionary biology in the highest respect. As a naturalist and an extreme fan of engaging in adventure on the wild side, I can only dream of experiencing the natural world to the extent that he has. However, in my experience as a naturalist, I cannot imagine any time when I would leave my cane at home. Adventure might be waiting just around the corner or down the path, but I need to use my cane to get there.
I have conducted many programs in the woods with blind children, and I reinforce the notion that my cane is a ticket to freedom. There may be times when it is necessary to use a sighted guide, but in general, when you take another person's arm, some part of the brain shuts down and awareness of surroundings is diminished.
Again there are times when the goal is to get from point A to point B, so the fastest track may be to take the arm of a fellow traveler. It must be acknowledged that the information along the way is not perceived to the same extent. When I am in the woods I want every advantage to collect information, and my cane is crucial in determining the edge of the trail, the slope of the landscape, and the texture of the terrain. At any time I can put down my cane and touch the bark of a tree or even climb it if I wish. But I want to know that my cane will be on the ground beneath the tree, waiting to return to my hand.
My cane tells me so much about my travels that I would feel less engaged without it. When I want it to be, it is an extension of my fingertips. When I want my hands empty to feel the shape of a leaf or flower or the stickiness of a spider web, I simply put the cane down beside me. If I wish to enter the water, sometimes I leave my cane on the shore, and sometimes it goes in the water with me. It depends on what I am trying to achieve. If I had left it at home, I would not have that option.
As a blind role model and mentor for many blind children who participate in nature programming with me, I believe I would be doing them a great disservice by not encouraging them to keep a cane in their hands. In fact, sometimes it must be insisted upon based on the natural habitat. The confidence gained by the children as they navigate their pathway is immeasurable. Again I am not against putting the cane down and diving into learning with my hands, but the cane needs to be nearby for hasty movement.
Not every blind child who attends nature programming will grow up to be a naturalist and live more outdoors than inside. However, each child who enters the woods with cane in hand is preparing to go confidently someday to a job interview or take the bus or walk down the city sidewalk holding the hand of a child. I adamantly promote the cane in-hand to travel the trails and thus prepare to travel the trails of life.